‘The King’ was a loved man of the peo­ple

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - News - By Stu­art McLean, Editor

olf wouldn’t be the great game it is to­day with­out its mem­o­rable char­ac­ters and le­gends who have spread the word around the globe. Through the cen­turies, from Old Tom Mor­ris to Tiger Woods, it has been in­di­vid­u­als who have chiefly pop­u­larised golf. Peo­ple of­ten take up the game for no bet­ter rea­son than that they were in­spired by watch­ing Gary Player or Ernie Els. Sadly, in an is­sue where we are cel­e­brat­ing the ar­rival of a new bois­ter­ous char­ac­ter in Beef John­ston, who al­ready has a grow­ing le­gion of fans, we record the pass­ing of a man who changed the course of pro­fes­sional golf, Arnold Palmer, at 87.

Through the 1960s and 1970s Arnie was the big­gest crowd-puller the game has seen. He might not have been the great­est golfer even of his era, hav­ing to con­tend with Jack Nick­laus and Gary Player in his hey­day, but no one had such an elec­tri­fy­ing pres­ence at a time when golf was first start­ing to be shown on TV. His bold, gam­bling play cap­ti­vated au­di­ences, and en­sured that the net­works broad­cast more golf. He had flam­boy­ance and style which con­ferred on him movie star sta­tus. No won­der he earned the nick­name of “The King.”

Palmer was so pop­u­lar with the Amer­i­can pop­u­lace that had he run for Pres­i­dent, he would have won in a land­slide. The world might have been a less di­vi­sive place to­day had he done so.At ev­ery tour­na­ment he played, there was an Arnie’s Army of de­voted fol­low­ers.They loved him, whether he was win­ning or los­ing, be­cause of his charisma and the way he em­pathised with the crowd.

There’s a story of a mo­ment in his ca­reer when Arnie was dis­turbed by a young boy as he was over a shot. His mother was hav­ing hys­ter­ics her­self, try­ing to keep him quiet as they be­came the fo­cus of the gallery’s at­ten­tion. Tiger’s cad­die Steve Wil­liams might have glared and abused the boy,

Gbut Arnie walked over, pat­ted the boy on his head, and told his mother, “Hey, don’t choke him; it’s not all that im­por­tant.” Arnie didn’t ac­com­plish the Grand Slam (the PGA eluded him), as did Ben Hogan, Player, Nick­laus and Woods, but he was more loved than any of them be­cause he was a man of the peo­ple, hav­ing grown up in the 1930s as the son of a club pro­fes­sional and green­keeper who never for­got his hum­ble be­gin­nings. And, some­thing you don’t of­ten see among the top tour play­ers to­day, he loved noth­ing more him­self than just play­ing golf. Be­ing out on a golf course with friends was a daily rou­tine for him af­ter re­tir­ing from tour­na­ment golf.“What other peo­ple may find in po­etry, I find in the flight of a good drive,” was one of his say­ings.

He will be fondly re­mem­bered not only in the United States, but also at the R&A club­house in St An­drews, hav­ing shaken up the thought pro­cesses of this once an­cient in­sti­tu­tion in the 1960s. It was at the Old Course in the Cen­te­nary Open of 1960 that Palmer played his first Open, at a time when there were vir­tu­ally no Amer­i­cans in the field. Palmer lost that year to the Aus­tralian Kel Na­gle, but won the next two Opens at Troon and Birkdale, and within a few years had trans­formed the cham­pi­onship into the won­der­ful in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­val of golf it is to­day.To think that when Palmer first vis­ited the UK, he still had to pre-qual­ify each year with ev­ery­one else, and the cham­pi­onship fin­ished on a Fri­day af­ter­noon.

This Novem­ber is­sue was go­ing to print as the news broke that Arnie was gone, and our own tribute to “The King” will be pub­lished in the De­cem­ber is­sue.

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